Ted Williams and His MVP Injustices

Ted Williams won the American league Most Valuable Player award in 1946 and 1949. His statistics for those years, coupled with Boston winning and almost winning the pennant during those seasons, made him a choice that simply could not be argued against. But Williams should have added at least three more MVP trophies to his hardware case, including one each for 1942 and 1947, when he won the Triple Crown both years and yet was not voted MVP!

For whatever reasons, William’s celebrated feuds with the hometown press or a bias in favor of players on the pennant winning teams, it is clear that Williams, long thought of as “the best hitter that ever lived”, should have an even loftier perch among the baseball immortals. If justice was served by the MVP voters of his era, Ted Williams would have been the MVP of the American League for the seasons of 1942,’46,’47,’48,’49,and ’50. Or, in other words, every season he played during that period! Williams was called away for military duty from 1943-1945, serving his country in World War II. Let us look at the evidence that speaks so loudly on Ted Williams’ behalf.

In 1942, Williams won his first Triple Crown, yet did not win the MVP. He lost out to Joe Gordon, second baseman on the New York Yankees, who had a fine year, but maybe not even the best on his own team. Gordon had 173 hits, scored 88 runs, hit 18 homers and knocked in 103 runs. He hit .322, but also led the league in strikeouts with 95. On his own team, Joe DiMaggio and Charlie Keller knocked in more runs than Gordon. Looking at Williams’ numbers, coming off his .406 season in 1941, a year he also didn’t win the MVP because of DiMaggio’s amazing 56 game hitting streak, we see that he dwarfs Gordon in every important offensive category. The Boston left fielder had 186 hits {+13 over Gordon}, 141 runs {+53}, 36 homers {+18}, 137 RBI {+34} and hit .358 {+.036}. He also led the league in walks, 145 to Gordon’s 79, and slugging average, .648 to Gordon’s .491. Gordon’s Yankees beat Williams’ Red Sox by nine games though to win the pennant.

Williams spent the next three years, as did DiMaggio and a host of other star players, off to war. He won the MVP in 1946 as Boston won the pennant but lost the World Series, in seven games to the Cardinals. 1947 saw Williams again lead the league in six major batting statistics, yet lose the MVP to DiMaggio once again, as he had in 1941. Joltin’ Joe had a solid campaign, but it didn’t come close to approaching the Splendid Splinter’s. Williams’ second Triple Crown in his last three seasons came as a result of hitting 32 homers, batting in 114 runs and hitting .343. He again led the league in runs scored, walks and slugging average. DiMaggio’s numbers pale in comparison, as he won the award with 20 homers, 97 RBI and a .315 batting average. Indeed, Williams knocked in 16 more runs than the next highest player, Tommy Heinrich of DiMaggio’s Yanks.

If two Triple Crowns couldn’t make you the MVP, then it should have come as no surprise that Williams lost in 1948 as well, this time to the Indians’ shortstop, Lou Boudreau. Despite hitting 25 homers with 127 RBI and the league’s highest average, .369, Ted Williams watched Boudreau’s 18 HRs, 106 RBI and .355 average beat him out for the award, most likely because Cleveland wound up one game ahead of Boston, winning the pennant for the first time since 1920. Williams once again led the junior circuit in walks and slugging average, as well as doubles. Ironically, Joe Gordon of the Yankees, who beat Williams in 1942 for MVP, had 32 homers and 124 RBI, better numbers than Boudreau and better numbers than when he himself took the award six years earlier!

Ted Williams came within decimal points of his third Triple Crown in 1949, losing the batting title to Detroit’s George Kell. The voters at least got this one right, naming Ted Williams MVP on the strength of his 43 home runs and 159 RBI.
1951’s American League MVP, Yogi Berra, had significantly lesser numbers than Williams. Perhaps we can let Williams’ absence from the Boston club while he served in the military bring to light how valuable he really was. In 1943 the Yankees, without DiMaggio, beat Boston, minus Williams, by 29 games. In ’44, Boston wound up 19 games behind the Browns and in ’45 they were 17 behind the Tigers. In 1952 and 1953, while Ted was in Korea, the Red Sox were a combined 35 games in back of the Yankees pennant winning clubs.

After 1951, Williams would never again knock in over 100 runs in a season, mostly due to not being able to play a full season due to various ailments. He did however astound the baseball world in 1958 by winning the batting crown at age 39.

Ted Williams homered in his last major league at bat, in 1961. As he rounded the bases and then headed for the dugout, the crowd applauded wildly. He would not tip his cap that day, to acknowledge them, aimed more at the reporters perhaps than the people in the stands. Author John Updike would write that day that “Gods don’t answer letters.” Considering what the writers that denied Ted Williams those multiple MVP awards had done, it is small wonder.

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